HONNE broke out to the world in 2014 with their first ever single “Warm On A Cold Night” that propelled them to their debut album Warm On A Cold Night two years later in 2016. Fast forward two years, several world tours, another stray single “Just Dance” later, Andy Clutterbuck and James Hatcher are back to release their sophomore LP Love Me / Love Me Not out tomorrow, August 24. Sitting down with HONNE at a packed bar over a few beers, some chips and dip and Buffalo wings to watch the very lackluster England versus Belgium World Cup game in June, we talked about their career, the process of creating their upcoming album and a potential “cheeky collab” with BTS.
The pair met a long time ago at a YMCA while at university. They both went to university with the idea that wanted to be around like-minded people and luckily they met each other. They bonded over their love for music and bands like Radiohead.
Their early music, which the duo insists fans will never hear and is not good, was heavily influenced by one of their favorite bands, Radiohead. They say it was more like the “electronic side of Radiohead, but more of an experiment.” It took them 5-7 years to practice songwriting, production and learn how to create their own sound and not imitate others.
Getting to the point they are at now was not easy. They weren’t immediately touring the world and signed to a major label deal. Andy taught music lessons on guitar and James was a music technician at school. It someone didn’t make a lesson, Andy would write songs, specifically “All In The Value” was written during one of those breaks.
But once they did find to their sound it was clear they had one subject they could hold onto – love. It isn’t an original subject, but the way they approached it and combined their melodic intuition, soulful voices and danceable beats, it all came together in a way they was relatable, earnest and easy to digest. Andy and James both have girlfriends and acknowledge the struggle of trying to manage long distance relationships. Their song “Coastal Love” explores that feeling of two people in love separated by an ocean. They bring their girlfriends for occasional trips on tour with them, like they spent a weekend in New York after the interview. They both joke that with the trust they have developed during their time together, they are slowly moving into a four-way relationship.
Just as they have grown and evolved as people, their upcoming album Love Me / Love Me Not is the next step in their musical journey. If you have read their interviews over the past several months, they have emphasized an R&B and hip-hop influence on the record from artists they admire such as Chance The Rapper. Listening through the record you can hear that as some of the slower, melodic tracks are replaced by beat-driven tunes, using sounds from hip-hop or even dancehall on “Location Unknown.”
When asked about this new direction, James admits it was on purpose and inspired by the artists they were listening to at the time. “Warm On A Cold Night was great to put on the evening and wind down a bit and we just wanted to come back with a bit of a banger.” Andy follows that up remarking that they were, “a more adventurous in terms of using lots of different sounds not just sticking to a Prophet  sound, keyboard and drum machine.”
Despite being on a second major label album, the record is done a bit DIY. They have duplicated studio setups in each other’s houses so they can easily pick up right where they left off on the last session. Ableton is the engine, but they are big on hardware with a Prophet, Nord, pre-amps, a Neumann U 87 mic and more, but they don’t even record in a sound-proofed room, though they may change that for LP 3. They then sent it off to David Wrench to mix, who has worked with the likes of Jungle, The xx, FKA Twigs, Caribou and others.
A conscious decision was made to have more collaborations on the record. They tapped fellow fast-rising Brit Tom Misch for one of the more natural sounding collaborations you will hear in quite some time “Me & You.” They also worked with Nana Rogues, who co-wrote Drake’s smash hit “Passionfruit” on “I Got You.”
HONNE are a bit old school in their way of collaborating. As everything moves online, even collaborating where entire albums have been made without collaborators ever being in the same room, HONNE feel the need to sit down and be in a studio with them. “It is nice to try ideas with someone,” says Clutterbuck. Hatcher echoes that, “the best ideas come when you have their time and can go back and forth.”
Relying on in-person sessions means you have limited time and need mesh with whom you are working with without much delay. They admit they can tell pretty early on when things aren’t going to work out in a session, but as Clutterbuck says their is that magical “Turning point where a bad idea turns into a great idea.” They worked with Reuben James, a jazz prodigy and Sam Smith’s keyboardist on three songs “Day One,” “I Might” and “Forget Me Not” because “just about every idea we start works out.” Having that familiarity means you can be even more honest with each other, making it easier to say each other’s ideas are “shit” as Hatcher notes.
When you have to work in a studio and not on the road, recording has to be done efficiently and quickly. They had about 30 songs for the album and only 12 made it, but they do believe all of them will be released at some point. But creating the album isn’t just putting together random songs as they note. “It’s not just about putting together our best songs on this album,” notes Hatcher, “obviously these are some of the best ones we have made, but it is about making it all work together.”
The band says they have 100% control over what goes on the album. “They have an input, sometimes just saying ‘this song is really good, it has to be on the album.’ It is nice to have a fresh pair of ears listening to stuff.” The A&Rs don’t tear them down and tell them to write “Sam Smith tunes” or “piano ballads.”
There has been a trend in 2018 for artists to release two singles at once and HONNE have done that. It is only something you could do in the digital age, where you just throw something out there and see how it performs. Hatcher describes the strategy as “trial and error” and an “interesting experiment” as they see which one does best to consider pushing. It is a rare moment of complete honesty with a label rep sitting next to us not intervening where an artist admits that they don’t have the marketing plan all figured out. They know that it may not be a label favorite, but thinking of it as fans themselves, if every single you push won’t be a smash, so why not try two at a time?
Their career trajectory has been rising for some time, but they still believe they have a few more places to go. They shrug off notions of a gig like Wembley, but do still hold aspirations of bigger shows.
They have already played some of their dream venues in London’s Roundhouse and Brixton Academy, which Hatcher calls “one of the most important venues to play.” They still have a goal of getting on one of the bigger stages at Glastonbury, but otherwise feel like they have accomplished a lot of what they originally set out to do. Playing music written by them matters for their long-term career and how they will perform. “If you feel passionate about those songs, you will always feel proud to play them and to see the reaction,” says Clutterbuck.
They admit touring can be grind. To stay in health on the road, they eat healthy and try to exercise, which also acts as a way to explore a city. Hatcher says he sleeps more on a bus than he does at home, which they enjoy much more than flying everywhere. They deal with the pressure and exhaustion of those busy tours by playing with “amazing musicians” who help make them look great.
But now on the eve of their new album, HONNE are flying high with celebrity fans and friendships blossoming with the likes of Kehlani, Grace Moretz, Milla Jovovich and “most of the famous people in South Korea” including RM from BTS. RM tweeted about them, they messaged him on Twitter and “we might do a cheeky little something, something with them at some point, who knows” Hatcher says coyly.
HONNE also predicted England would make the semi finals of the world cup back in the group stage. Believe in them. They are ready for the spotlight once again to shine as even brighter stars.